Why is Android’s growth rate suddenly flat? (Hint: Android is not the same as Google Android)

While many examined the financials in Google’s(s goog) most recently quarterly results on Thursday, the Android activation figures are also worth a look. Android adoption has enjoyed stellar growth for some time, having surpassed Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone, and it is still growing. The growth rate, however, is now completely flat based on the numbers Google provided on Thursday and compared to prior figures earlier this year. What’s up?

A little history of big growth

First, let’s take a look back to see how Android has grown through 2012:

So has 2013 been kind to Android? Not nearly as much.

Nine months hasn’t birthed as much growth

Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in April, 2013 that Android activations were 1.5 million per day. That’s a noticeable slowdown in growth from seven months prior. Schmidt also said 750 million cumulative devices were activated. Not too bad.
One month later, Google shared Android figures at its Google I/O developer event. The numbers: 900 cumulative activations. 150 million in 30 days is pretty good: That’s actually 5 million per day. But Google didn’t report the 5 million number at I/O; I simply did the math, making me wonder if the prior cumulative activation figures were too low.
This brings us back to current day: Google just reported data from the quarter ending June 30, or 45 days since it’s last activation update. Here are the figures: 900 million cumulative Android activations and 1.5 million more per day. In other words: the growth rate is completely flat now.
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What happened to Android’s upward momentum? Granted, 1.5 million new Android devices in use each day is still a huge number. But that number hasn’t seemed to grow much since last September. It works out to 15.38 percent growth in daily activations over 9 months, which isn’t much and surely a much slower rate of growth over prior time periods.

Android is not the same as Google’s Android

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Android itself is actually growing more than Google Android. What I mean is: Anyone can use Android to build a device, but it can’t use Google’s Android apps and services without licensing them from Google. That means an Android device that doesn’t interact with Google will never be activated by Google and won’t count in the data.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD tabletsDevice makers in Asia have been using Android for a few years without Google’s services. So, too, does Amazon(s amzn) with its Kindle tablet family: Buying and using a Kindle slate doesn’t count in Google’s figures for this reason.
My gut says that with the bigger smartphone growth in China, India and other regions, consumers are buying Android devices without Google services. And not a single one of those directly benefits Google in any way, shape or form: No licensing fees, no data gathered from Google accounts and no revenue from sales in Google Play. Competition from other smartphone platforms is likely playing a part as well, but I think the non-Google Androids are having the bigger impact.
There’s no doubt that Google Android is big and still growing. With Android freely available without Google’s services, however, Android itself could be even bigger.